When I first saw the topic for this article, I was hit immediately with an intense struggle between humility and transparency. Truth be told, it’s pretty hard to be a LASIK surgeon. Saying that so straightforwardly feels socially inept, though. I’m not sure why that is. It’s just a fact of life that someone becomes instantly unlikeable if they say, “This thing I do? Oh yes, it is quite difficult.” It’s the reason that when a character says this in a movie, everyone starts rooting against him — and then cheers when he gets what’s coming to him.
Education and Training
Then I found my out — a way to describe the difficulty of my job and not sound like Lucius Malfoy (if you’re unfamiliar with him, a simple photo can give you an instant comprehension). The answer is that becoming a LASIK surgeon isn’t the hard part. You need good grades and then some good interviews and luck getting into relatively small training programs, but really, that’s true of many jobs.
Next, after becoming a LASIK surgeon, there are a lot of technical specifics involved in the clinic and surgery. Luckily, at that point you’ve spent a little over a decade going through training in those exact skills! You’ve also learned where and how to keep up to date on the newest and best technology. But again, that’s true of many jobs. So doing what a LASIK surgeon does isn’t really the hard part.
The Actual Hard Part
The essential piece of the puzzle in being a good LASIK surgeon is different than becoming one or being technically skilled in performing LASIK. The essential piece is the hard part. What is it? It is honestly and genuinely caring about the patient sitting in front of you. I know, I know, that answer sounds like something you’d read on an inspirational poster in a medical office — probably written under a photograph of a kitten with a stethoscope. Saying that you want to genuinely care for your patients has become the medical equivalent of a generic, sentimental greeting card, “Laugh like you’ve danced when no one was looking, and love like you’ve smiled where your heart is at home.”
In this case, however, I’m not talking about an abstract philosophy. I’m talking about deeply caring about someone in a concrete, practical way. It’s unnatural and deliberate. You may have either heard about or experienced surgeons who are emotionally deaf or detached. The reason that phenomenon is so common is because the extremes of emotion surrounding surgery are a heavy load for anyone to bear. A surgeon without artifice who can actually share in the joy of success with you is also one who is emotionally invested enough to take failures personally.
Personal Emotional Investment
Deeply caring about each patient is exceptionally difficult because the highs and lows are profound. In its best expression, it’s a flame that ignites a passion for the best results possible. It means I’m hoping to share in the kind of celebration where the only one happier than me is the patient. That same flame, however, is the one that causes surgeons to emotionally burnout. If we can feel that happy, it means we can feel really sad. It happens in residency for most of us. No one likes to cry on the drive home from work.
I’m sure there are sociopaths that become surgeons, but it’s the rare exception. I went through residency and each year watched the new doctors enter into residency. Everyone starts out the same — emotionally invested, carrying their work home with them, and then there’s a complication. And because no one likes to feel sad, a little emotional scar tissue forms. Then a little more, and after a few years, it’s normal to leave residency and start a career having learned not to care too deeply. The perfectionism is still there, the personal emotional involvement is gone.
Being a LASIK surgeon isn’t harder than any other job that requires dedication and an eye for details. Being a good LASIK surgeon, however, is pretty hard. It requires the resolve to care enough that you can be sad when patients are sad; it’s the only way to maintain the desire for a good outcome as much as each patient does. It’s the difference between being a very skilled medical specialist and being a good doctor. People pack concert halls to hear a brilliant pianist play a piece of music that’s written step-by-step on a page — not because he can play the notes correctly, but because he can bring it to life with the emotion he infuses into it. Like most of life, the hard part is usually what makes it all worthwhile.